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Discovering Baroque treasures with Will Russell and Spiritato

Continuo Connect catches up with Spiritato's founder

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Discovering Baroque treasures with Will Russell and Spiritato - Continuo Connect catches up with Spiritato's founder
William Russell

Spiritato, a Continuo Foundation grantee, is a period instrument ensemble with a love for little-known composers. As individuals, the musicians can be found performing with specialist ensembles throughout the UK and Europe, including the Academy of Ancient Music, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Les Talens Lyriques and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Performing together as Spiritato, they produce unique, research-based performance projects, avoiding well-trodden paths wherever possible, and actively seeking to promote forgotten composers and bring their music to a wider audience.

Spiritato has received Continuo Foundation grants for four projects over the last few years, taking them to leading venues and festivals across the UK. Their 2022 Inspiring Bach project was a landmark for Spiritato and following this success, they have been able to make contacts with many new artists who are keen to collaborate. As a result, for their next project - Music to her Majestie: Odes for the last Stuart - they were joined by lutenist Elizabeth Kenny and soloists Nicholas Mulroy, Jimmy Holliday, Nardus Williams and Zoe Brookshaw, to explore exquisite works dedicated to the last Stuart. Often overlooked, Queen Anne was a lifelong patroness of the arts, witnessing both the end of the Restoration and the arrival of a new, virtuosic Italian style.

Beginning with Purcell’s beautiful music for her wedding as a young princess, via the modern premiere of John Eccles’ lyrical Inspire Us Genius of the Day, full of hope for Britain’s new Queen in 1703, to Handel’s glowing ode for her birthday of 1713, his masterpiece; Eternal Source of Light Divine, each work features the finest composer and leading poet of the day and shines a light on two decades of politics and power at the dawn of the 18th century. 

While perhaps less well known today, John Eccles was the longest-serving Master of the King’s Musick (from 1700 for 35 years!), and served four monarchs in all - William III, Anne of course, then George I and George II. He composed widely for the theatre from the 1680s, rising to prominence in the period between the dominant figures of Purcell (with whom he collaborated on the stage work, The Comical History of Don Quixote) and Handel, who he commissioned during his time as Master of the King’s Musick, resulting in an Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (1713).

Continuo Connect caught up with Will Russell, natural trumpet player and founder of Spiritato, to find out more.

“When Spiritato toured Inspiring Bach last year, we were using natural trumpets without valves or finger holes to temper our notes. The sound these instruments make is incredible but in using them, we were working quite contrary to modern convention, instead being as true to the existing original trumpets as we could be. Each of our six concert audiences (London, Stour, Lammermuir, Brighton, Wiltshire and York) were utterly enthralled and so inquisitive that I was surrounded by eager members of the public in each interval and after every performance!”

Will feels very lucky to travel a great deal with Spiritato and his other work: so much so, that he even reads about travelling while on tour - he’s currently reading Eric Newby’s The Big Red Train Ride, a humorous travelogue exploring life on the Trans-Siberian Railway during the time of the USSR. Will says that Newby’s books often accompany him on tour - Spiritato are yet to venture to Siberia, but audiences there would no doubt be as enthusiastic as those in Britain!

A huge champion of rarely performed repertoire, in recent years he says he’s had a lot of fun discovering new (old) music and working with wonderful musicians all around the UK and Europe:

“It’s great to sit in an orchestra made up of people from all over the world and to listen to how it all comes together for a performance… to receive support from Continuo Foundation for the projects I dream up has been incredibly energising and uplifting!”

But the energy of creative work requires inspiration as well as financial support - and so outside of music, Will finds that in “stillness” and the outdoors:

“The poet John Cooper Clarke once talked about poets needing to be idle, in order to create great art. I love walking in the countryside or digging in the garden - finding a bit of stillness never fails to get my brain working and putting new ideas together.”

And that's advice we can all learn from!

Watch and listen to Spiritato on Continuo Connect - all their concerts are listed here too - and find out more on their website at www.spiritato.co.uk.

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